This might currently be making news headlines around the world but it’s nothing new. When I first converted to Islam ten years ago I visited various Islamic bookshops, in cities up and down the UK, and found books like this in all of them.
As an enthusiastic new convert, I felt a little like I was playing catch-up with all those who had been born into the religion, and read as much as I could to broaden my knowledge. Two things quickly became clear:
- Not all muslims have an accurate knowledge of their religion. They rely heavily on sources of information like these bookshops, the kuthbahs (sermons) of imams and various cable TV channels for information. Some have no background knowledge of Islam whatsoever, particularly if they have come from impoverished or illiterate families. Others will have read the entire Qur’an, but only in Arabic, and so have no knowledge of its actual wording.
- Much of the content of these books has no basis in religion, originating instead from cultural differences or the interpretations of different sects and Islamist ideological groups – Wahhabi, Deobandi, Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood are just a few – trying to spread their particular “brand” of Islam.
This kind of mis-information and propaganda is rife in the muslim world. If you’ve ever tried to improve your own understanding of what muslims are all about and ended up totally confused, you’re not alone. A large part of the muslim community itself is in exactly the same position.
I was even warned by a wise muslim friend who taught me Urdu, not to believe what I heard on certain TV channels as it was not Islam. So muslims are aware of the problem. The difficulty lies in finding your way through all the agendas.
Belief is a personal thing and the answers differ from person to person. In my ten years, I’ve come to realise there are no easy answers, no set of instructions that can be applied to all of us and our situations. The Qur’an gives us a framework to work with – if we follow the reasoning behind the words, and it fits with our moral principles, then we can’t be far wrong. Islam encourages people to think for themselves. We have to learn to spot the “wolves in sheep’s clothing”.
There is nothing in the book referred to in the link above that has anything in common with the qualities of tolerance, compassion, love and respect for others that the Qur’an requests of those who call themselves Muslim.